Oct 4, 2022
President Biden visits Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Ian Transcript
President Biden visits Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Read the transcript here.
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Pedro Pierluisi: (00:01)
Good afternoon. Mr. President, I want to officially welcome you and First Lady Jill Biden to Puerto Rico. We’re honored to have you here. The people of Puerto Rico are very grateful for your steadfast support and highly appreciate your visit, particularly as we recover from Hurricane Fiona. I must highlight that this visit is not an isolated incident. It is yet another example of your commitment to the wellbeing of the American citizens of Puerto Rico. Which you, Mr. President and your administration have demonstrated with concrete actions for the past 19 months. That support has included total collaboration from cabinet members in key federal agencies, as well as targeted initiatives in important policy areas such as education, renewable energy, and economic development. Now in Puerto Rico’s time of need, the Biden administration has been working closely with us since before the hurricane hit us. As I have mentioned to the president, FEMA’s collaboration has been instrumental to our islands reconstruction efforts and that has helped put our people and Puerto Rico back on their feet.
Pedro Pierluisi: (01:20)
My team and I provided the president and his staff with a detailed briefing of where we are with respect to the recovery from Hurricane Fiona and describe the challenges and opportunities on which we must work together. This is crucial in order to be able to efficiently provide our residents equitable access to essential services and achieve the resiliency in our infrastructure that we need. To that end, I have made a request to President Biden to amend the major disaster declaration to provide an additional period of 180 days of 100% funding for debris removal, emergency protective measures and direct federal assistance. Right now Puerto Rico is in a full recovery mode. Just two weeks after Fiona, 93% of Puerto Ricans have electricity and 98% have water service. We have been able to provide safe passage to all communities whose access roads or bridges were affected and everyone who was housed in a shelter has either returned to their home or has been provided temporary housing. All 78 Puerto Rican municipalities were included in the major disaster declaration and more than 800,000 residents of Puerto Rico have registered with FEMA to claim individual assistance.
Pedro Pierluisi: (02:46)
Our efforts to combat poverty are especially important after a disaster like Hurricane Fiona, in which so many vulnerable families lost their homes and belongings. Thus, I have asked FEMA to provide immediate access to the supplies in its local warehouses to our government and the 94 local non-governmental organizations operating community hubs on our island. On the other hand, we must leverage the recent advances we have made in the ongoing reconstruction due to Hurricane Maria five years ago. So it is crucial that all projects stemming from the impact of Hurricane Fiona being incorporated in our previous projects in a cohesive and strategic manner. In addition, since so much of the damage by Fiona’s flooding was on our transportation infrastructure. We have requested that FEMA treat the reconstruction of our roads and bridges as critical infrastructure in its recovery policy. We also talked about additional ways in which the federal government can assist us in advancing the transformation of our electric system and achieving our renewable energy generation goals by 2050. Consistent with the memorandum of understanding we signed last February with key federal agencies.
Pedro Pierluisi: (04:01)
This initiative will help us promote micro grids and distributed energy in remote areas, improve our power sector resiliency and increase access to more affordable energy and cleaner air. Finally, we spoke of the need to prioritize US Army core of engineers flood control projects to mitigate further damages from potential additional storms. The cores ongoing or potential projects cover areas that suffered damages during Hurricane Fiona, such as the area surrounding Rio de la Plata, Rio Peurto Neuvo, Rio Grande de Arecibo, Rio Nigua, Rio [inaudible 00:04:41] and Rio Inabon here in Ponce. Other areas we must prioritize are aid to our farmers, climate change mitigation initiatives like coastal erosion and coral restoration projects and adequate funding for our healthcare programs. In short, my asks to you Mr. President are straightforward. We want to be treated in the same way as our fellow Americans in the states in times of need. All American citizens regardless of where they live in the United States should receive the same support from the federal government.
Pedro Pierluisi: (05:14)
We’re confident that the president will heed our call for equal treatment because that is consistent with his priorities and his policies. Again, I want to thank President Biden and the first lady for their visit and for his administration’s support for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (05:46)
[foreign language 00:05:46] Presidente Biden.
Speaker 3: (08:12)
I would like to extend our warmest welcome and express our appreciation to the President and the First Lady for their visit to the municipality of Ponce, which is where I am from and where I have lived my entire life. Allow me to introduce myself. I am [inaudible 00:08:29] and I work at Centros Sor Isolina Ferre located in La Playa de Ponce. The centers were founded by sister Isolina Ferre, a missionary woman whose legacy of love and service we try to honor with our work and dedication. Our communities and Puerto Rico have experienced countless hardships. Hurricane Maria was devastating, we wanted to recover and rebuild. After that, we were struck hard by earthquakes, the pandemic and most recently by hurricane Fiona, we have not been able to fully recover. Hurricane Maria was terrible, we lost everything and some people even lost family members. Mine was one of the families that had to seek refuge in the mainland with the purpose of bringing stability to our families.
Speaker 3: (09:27)
But something told me that I had to come back to Puerto Rico and it was then that the Centros Sor Isolina Ferre gave me the opportunity to become part of this amazing team. I have learned a lot during these years, there is no doubt we are a resilient and hardworking people. When one looks at our communities from the standpoint of privilege, it all sounds like an exaggeration. But when you dive deeper into them, you realize that the problems are much greater than one thinks. But as sister said serving is our way of talking and that is how we will continue to do what we do every day until we lift up our communities and our island of Puerto Rico. I want to thank President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden for their visit. I am also grateful for the support and assistance that they have provided so far. I hope they are able to understand our most basic needs and I am deeply honored today to be able to introduce President Joe Biden.
Joe Biden: (10:35)
Thank you. Well, my name’s Joe Biden and I don’t want the headline to read Biden brings Storm to Puerto Rico. So I’m going to maybe have to cut this little short. Let me start off by saying that Jill and I… And thank you very much for that lovely introduction. Jill and I, we’re anxious to be here. I come from a little state, the little state of Delaware. It’s not like the congresswoman from New York, she’s from the big state, but we have a very in relative terms large Puerto Rican population in Delaware relative to our population. We have the eighth largest black population in the country and between all minorities we have 20% of our state is minority and so I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically. So we came here for a long time, both for business and pleasure since you’re part of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Delaware as well and I was chairman of the judiciary committee. I spent a lot of time in the northern part of the state.
Joe Biden: (11:56)
But look, it’s people like you who do so much for your community and are going to make such a big difference as Puerto Rico rebuilds. Thank you governor for your partnership as we work together to help rebuild Puerto Rico and I mean, rebuild it all and rebuild it in a resilient way. So when storms come again which they will, they’re not having the damage they caused before. I want to thank the members of Congress, local officials, community leaders that have joined us today ever since the hurricane struck. Jill and I have had people in Puerto Rico, in our minds and in our prayers. We came here in person to show that we’re with you, all of America’s with you as you receive and recover and rebuild. I’m confident we’re going to be able to do all you want Governor and I’m committed to this island. Puerto Rico has been through so much in recent years, Hurricane Maria, five years ago a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. Two years ago, the folks slept outside for days worried about their homes would collapse on them if they went in, then Covid 19 and then Fiona.
Joe Biden: (13:09)
Yes, Puerto Rico is a strong place and Puerto Ricans are strong people. But even so you have had to bear so much and more than need be and you haven’t gotten the help in a timely way and this latest storm dealt a serious blow to all the hard work that’s been done since Maria. Roads and bridges built up from Maria have been washed away again. Families who’ve spent their savings to build new homes after losing their last ones have seen them flooded away. Crops decimated, farms destroyed here in Ponce and communities nearby have been hit the hardest and for days people lived without power, without water, some still in that circumstance, no idea when it’ll be back again and for everyone. Everyone who survived Maria Fiona must have been an all two familiar nightmare. You know better than anyone that over time these losses add up and so Puerto Ricans have lost loved ones in the storm, and in the perilous disasters and the number can feel abstract sometimes, you hear a number. But every number is a person, every life lived.
Joe Biden: (14:23)
We read the obituaries and remembrances and they all feel like people we knew. Dotting grandparents, devoted parents, Christian children, longtime neighbors, people who cared about their community and made a difference and they will not be forgotten. Then through these disasters so many people have been displaced from their homes, lost their jobs and savings or suffered injuries, often unseen but many times seen. Yet somehow the people of Puerto Rico keep getting back up with resilience and determination. Quite frankly, it’s pretty extraordinary when you’re looking from afar and you deserve every bit of help your country can give you. That’s what I’m determined to do and that’s what I promise you. After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico much of it not having gotten here initially. We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised and I’m determined how Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and better prepared for the future. That’s why I approved emergency declarations of Puerto Rico before the hurricane. Government remember my call on you before the hurricane made landfall? To deliver immediate federal funding to shelter people and provide essential support.
Joe Biden: (15:42)
Just a few days later I approved an expedited major disaster declaration. That means federal government will cover 100% of the cost to clear debris and carry out search and rescue and continue to shelter people. It also means homeowners, renters, business owners are eligible to apply for federal help to recover damage, losses caused by hurricane Fiona. The federal governments can provide individual assistance for up to $37,900 for essential home repairs and another 37,900 for lost property as the law calls for like a car or a refrigerator. Additionally, we’ve deployed more than 1200 personnel from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Coast Guard, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency. They include search and rescue teams to assist survivors and power restoration experts. Power is now back, as you pointed out governor 92% of the island and water is back on 95% of the island. Thanks in part to the dedicated IBW workers and federal support staff.
Joe Biden: (16:44)
Now we have to get to 100% and here at this facility you can see some of the generators from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers that we’re transporting to places that still don’t have power here. Here they’re loaded onto trucks and brought to locations and hospitals and shelters, paired with fuel trucks so generators can be gassed up on site. My administration’s also providing financial assistance help families and individuals right away. Many families are scrambling to pay their bills right now, to fill up their gas tank, to put food on the table. They can register at FEMA cash assistance for 700 bucks to help cover the essentials for just a little while. So far, nearly 200,000 households across Puerto Rico have received this cash assistance. $700 won’t replace what you lost, it’s not even close but it can help take care of some of the little basics while you catch your breath and get back on your feet. FEMA has made crisis counselors available whether you’re a survivor or a first responder, if you need help or just someone to talk to people are here for you.
Joe Biden: (17:52)
The hotline number is 800-981-0023. I’ll say it again, 800-981-0023, don’t be embarrassed to call. Whether there’s Spanish or English speaking counselors will be standing by to help you and times like these Americans come together. I’m grateful for our personal of FEMA and other agencies for the hard work these past few weeks. Many of our FEMA staff that has been pointed out are from Puerto Rico, are Puerto Rican. They’ve been working 24/7 to get help the people across the island while also scrambling to help their own families and neighbors. I want to recognize the local first responders including Puerto Rican National Guard who have been working round the clock and I mean it literally round the clock. They’ve been through a lot the past five years. I want to applaud the Red Cross volunteers who came from as far away as California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas, to help however they can. New York sent not only a Congress… One of the most congresswoman in the Congress. But state troopers and emergency responders. I don’t think you’re going to be staying the whole time, right?
Joe Biden: (19:08)
Anyway, all kidding aside New Jersey sent their all hazard incident management teams trained for hurricane responses. These states are home, the two of the largest Puerto Rican population in the United States, New York and New Jersey and their sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico needed them and they answered the call. Most of all, I want to recognize the heroism and selflessness of so many people across Puerto Rico. The main story that has been reported is the storm, but there’s another story. What ordinary people did when the storm hit, literally the day after the hurricane, the day after. Churches and community organizations opened a network of kitchens across the island to cook hot food for anyone who needed it. Folks delivered food to the elderly who were house bound, they shared their generation with neighbors who had medicine that needed to be refrigerated. They organized activities for kids to give their exhausted parents a break. They arranged canvases to bring food, water and other supplies and commodities to communities cut short as a consequence of landslide and flooding that couldn’t be reached.
Joe Biden: (20:18)
During the storm, when the waters were rising, people went to extraordinary lengths to help each other survive. We’ve seen people using a raft and a boat tied to a rope to brave the raging waters and rescue neighbors trapped in their homes. They aren’t paratroopers or search and rescue professionals, they’re neighbors. They’re just regular folks ready and willing to do whatever they could do when their help was needed, when the neighbor was in trouble. Thanks to them and all the people of Puerto Rico, this recovery from Fiona is underway. I’m encouraged by all the stores that are opening up, the hospitals that are kept running, the supply chains that held steady and the debris is already begun to be cleared on roads across the island and we will continue the debris coverage. Still we have to do more, we have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes Puerto Rico is ready. Today I’m announcing more than $60 million in funding to help coastal areas in Puerto Rico become better prepared for the storm. For example, we can create a flood warning system to help shore up levies and flood walls.
Joe Biden: (21:29)
In addition, there’s nearly 700 million in infrastructure investments in Puerto Rico that have already been announced since I signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last November. For example, we’ve awarded $90 million to upgrade PR2 Highway and we’ve announced $163 million to begin construction on the canal and restore. Help me with the pronunciation.
Pedro Pierluisi: (21:55)
Joe Biden: (21:56)
Martin Pena, the that entire ecosystem and we’re going to clean up polluted waters and restore mangrove habitats and bring back marine life and you’re going to see investments like these increasing significantly in the months ahead. We’re investing in Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, public transit, ports, airports, water safety and high speed internet. We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall and as we rebuild we have to ensure that we build it to last. We’re particularly focused on the power grid. This year to date, Puerto Rico has received four million to help make the power grid more resilient. That number is going to go up as we convey to the governor. I’m ready to deploy and expedite more resources from the Department of Energy and other federal agencies, not just… I don’t usually talk this fast. But it looks like it’s moving quickly. To help transform the entire system so the Puerto Rican people can get clean, reliable, affordable power they need and the power stays in homes and hospitals when storms like Fiona strike.
Joe Biden: (23:07)
That includes mini grids which you can begin to deploy soon so we are less dependent on transmission lines across the long distances and more redundancy when the storms hit. The goal was lower energy bills and more reliable power for Puerto Rican households. Additionally, I’ve asked the Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm who was the first great person to lead a supercharged effort across the entire federal government. She’s going to put in place the Puerto Rican grid recovery modernization team to bring to bear all the federal resources and technical assistance and additional support for Puerto Rico. We’ll help as you work to repair your grid quickly and drive decisive progress on the game plan for Puerto Rico’s clean energy transformation. I also know many people in Puerto Rico have many family friends and friends in Florida. Your hearts are with them right now and their hearts are with you, Jill and I will be in Florida on Wednesday. As I’ve made clear at times like these our nation comes together, put aside our political differences and get to work.
Joe Biden: (24:18)
We show up when we’re needed because if we lost our home, if we lost a loved one we’d hope that people would show up for us as well and I want the people of Puerto Rico to know I’m committed, my entire administration’s committed to standing with you every step of the way as long as it takes. The White House reception honoring Hispanic history Month, a US army chaplain, a Catholic priest, proud son of Puerto Rico, offered a prayer for all those who suffered through the hurricane including Puerto Rico. Here’s what he said. He said, “Give us generous hearts that we may continue to use our gifts to support them.” Well, the people of Puerto Rico have generous hearts and that’s what they get through this. We return the generosity and that’s the generous hearts that the rest of the country are going to make sure we continue to provide. But I want to say it again we are not leaving here as long as I’m president until everything… I mean this sincerely. Until every single thing that we can do is done. God bless you all, and all of you who are hurting.
Joe Biden: (25:26)
I mean, God protect our troops and all those brave souls that risk their lives to help others survive this tragedy and I usually don’t quite talk this fast but it looks like we made it. Thank you very much. I want to bring up the [inaudible 00:25:46] do you mind gov? I was up in New York with the mayor and with the governor and what they wanted to talk to me about, they wanted to talk to me about Puerto Rico.
Speaker 5: (25:57)
Joe Biden: (25:59)
Remember we sat there?
Speaker 5: (26:00)
Joe Biden: (26:01)
So it is one of the best Congress women in the Congress, Congress persons in the entire Congress and she’s… Are you born here?
Speaker 5: (26:10)
Yes, I was born here and my entire family is here.
Joe Biden: (26:13)
Is here? All right, I hope I don’t get you-
Speaker 5: (26:16)
Nine brothers and sisters.
Joe Biden: (26:17)
Nine brothers and sisters? Well, God bless you. I’d tell you what, my mother used to think that anybody had that many children. We only had four she’d say, “No purgatory for mom, straight to heaven.”
Speaker 5: (26:32)
Joe Biden: (26:32)
Straight to heaven.
Speaker 5: (26:32)
Thank for being here.
Joe Biden: (26:32)
Speaker 5: (26:32)
We love you.
Joe Biden: (26:33)
Thanks everybody. We’re going to get this done. We really are.
Speaker 6: (26:41)
Sorry, [Inaudible 00:26:41] we’re going to move you quickly to the back.
Joe Biden: (26:41)
We’re going to move me quickly. Okay, thanks everybody. I really mean it. Thank you very much.